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Critique of the ‘Food Miles’ Perspective

By Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu

Executive Summary

These days, one cannot wander into a supermarket produce section without seeing signs urging customers to “buy local.” Locally produced food, according to proponents of the local-food consumer movement, is not only fresher and better tasting, but it is also better for the environment. After all, they argue, local food does not have to travel far to reach your table, thus releasing less greenhouse gases during transport. But does the number of miles food travels from production to plate really have the environmental impact these “locavores” claim?

This Policy Primer examines the origins and validity of the food miles concept. The evidence presented suggests that food miles are, at best, a marketing fad that frequently and severely distorts the environmental impacts of agricultural production. At worst, food miles constitute a dangerous distraction from the very real and serious issues that affect energy consumption, the environmental impact of modern food production, and the affordability of food.

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